The Nightmare From Which We Try To Awaken
By Charles P. Pierce
The Politics Blog
JAN 25, 2013
On Wednesday, in a house in Malahide, north of Dublin, a 61-year old woman named Dolours Price was found dead in her bed, possibly from a drug overdose. Price had been a prominent member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army when the Troubles broke out again in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s. (She also is the ex-wife of actor Stephen Rea.) Among other things, she was part of the team that set off a car bomb outside the Old Bailey in London. More recently, however, she was the central figure in a bizarre case involving an oral history project at Boston College, some inexcusable meddling by foreign law enforcement institutions, and a serious threat to academic freedom in this country stemming from bitterness and stupidity in another.
Price was one of the paramilitary veterans from both sides of the conflict who cooperated with BC on a project to collect reminiscences from the Troubles by the people most intimately involved in them. In her case, she has been particularly vocal in accusing Gerry Adams, now a member of the Irish parliament, of having ordered murders and bombings when, she alleged, Adams was her IRA commander in 1972. (Most notably, Price accused Adams of having ordered her to deliver Jean McConville to an IRA execution squad in 1972. McConville’s body wasn’t foud until 31 years later.) The interviews were given to the BC researchers on the condition that they would be held in confidence until the interviewee died. Nevertheless, police authorities in both Northern Ireland and in Great Britain have attempted to force the BC researchers to hand Price’s interviews over to them, ostensibly to build a case against Adams for the murder of McConville, but more likely, most people believe, to embarrass and discredit Adams, who is not only now an elected politician, but also the public face of one side of the Irish peace process. Certainly now, with Price’s death, any trial of Adams in the death of Jean McConville is unlikely, given that Price was going to be the star witness.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court here stayed the demand for Price’s interviews pending its decision on a motion by the BC researchers, who cited their academic freedom as a shield against having their work used essentially as an investigative tool. What makes things even more different, as was pointed out today in a column by Kevin Cullen of The Boston Globe, whose work from Northern Ireland over the past two decades should have won about eight Pulitzers, is that, when he was a senator, John Kerry, our Secretary Of State-designate, went out of his way to line up with the researchers at BC and against what the end-around being attempted by law-enforcement from across the pond.(Cullen’s column, alas, is behind the Globe’s paywall.) Senator Kerry wrote a letter to the woman he eventually will succeed, Hillary Clinton, arguing that she should try and get the British authorities to reconsider their hamfisted attempts to turn historians into de facto intelligence operatives. Clinton, Cullen writes, never responded, but, as Cullen argues, Price’s sudden death is a good reason to put an end to the whole sorry episode. If the British authorities insist on pressing their claims, Cullen says, then this all has been about politics, and not about justice. It certainly puts our new chief diplomat in an interesting position. American historians ought to be agog over this.